|Customer service report: Enterprise applications|
|Vendor/customer partnerships are vital|
|Purchasing enterprise applications is no small matter. Companies want a vendor that cares–one that not only understands its customers’ businesses, but knows that technology and function matter, too.|
|By Beth Stackpole|
W ith $150 million in annual sales and 500 employees, Elizabethtown Water Co. might not be a big fish in the water-utility pond, but it sure wants to be treated like one. That’s why, when evaluating enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors for a $2 million implementation launched last year, the utility went with the company that seemed most likely to shower it with customer service–in this case, SAP AG, of Walldorf, Germany.
“SAP treated us like a large company; they put a lot of resources into the presales process, inviting us to seminars, providing experts to come in and talk about issues,” says Dennis Doll, vice president and controller for the Westfield, N.J., water utility. “They made every effort to show what their software would do, and we didn’t see that level of support or interest from the other players.”
Small companies find this hands-on attention prior to closing a sale particularly important, because the risk/reward ratio for an investment in enterprise software has a much greater impact on them. “All vendors say they approach [a customer] from an industry perspective,” notes John Hagerty, a research director at AMR Research Inc., of Boston. “But companies feel the most kinship with vendors that can get under the covers and paint the perception that they know exactly what [the customer] is doing.”
On the ERP front, Hagerty gives good marks to Lawson Software, of Minneapolis, and SAP for responsiveness in this area, with Oracle lagging behind.
Because the enterprise application vendor often works with consulting partners to tailor implementations, the vendor’s ability to work as a part of a team greatly affects the way it delivers customer support, says Barry Wilderman, a vice president at META Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn. According to Wilderman, it is important to strive for “strong relationships with integrators, who can then act as a single set of team members managed by the company doing the implementation.”
Training is another key element, says Elizabethtown Water’s Doll. Given the complexity of these applications, a vendor needs to have a full complement of training resources and third-party options. “Being able to get the right training when we needed it factored into our decision,” he says, citing SAP’s well-defined training curriculum and significant network of training partners.
While customer support issues made the list of evaluation criteria for Metatec Corp.’s search for an ERP package, it wasn’t a top priority, according to Alex Deak, vice president and CIO of the Dublin, Ohio, manufacturer and distributor of CD-ROM and DVD products. Metatec, which selected PeopleSoft in December 1998, took a hard look at all the contenders’ ability to deliver 24×7 hand-holding to its three global sites, including visiting the vendors’ customer support centers and talking to their help desk staffers.
Yet when it came down to picking a vendor, Deak says the short list of candidates, which included PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards & Co., of Denver, really provided similar customer support. “For us, the decision came down to things other than the service component,” he says. “[Customer support] was almost a given. We made the decision more on technology and function.” //
Beth Stackpole is a freelance writer based in Newbury, Mass. She frequently writes on enterprise applications and e-commerce trends. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.